Waiting on God When You Are Facing a Red Sea Problem in Your Life

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When you have grown up in church and heard certain Bible stories told multiple times, it’s easy to assume you know everything about familiar tales and view them in one particular context.

However, what I have found to be true the last few years is that the Word is truly active. Stories that I thought I knew in and out can have fresh meanings I never considered or understood until I walked through particular circumstances where that story suddenly became one I was living.

One such passage as of late that has become more alive to me has been Exodus 14, when the Israelites left Egypt to escape from Pharaoh and were led up against the Red Sea. The story is one that I have seen illustrated in hundreds of books and heard about in many different sermons. However, I used to see it only from the angle of the miracle-working power of God to deliver His people. And while that is certainly an important thrust of the story, I began to see it from a different perspective recently. I began to see it as a story that could show me what I should do when I encounter situations that look impossible.

A few of the treasures I can glean from this passage:

1. Our circumstances are never bigger than God.

Exodus tells us that the Israelites were led to the Red Sea and there they saw the vast water stretched in front of them, Pharaoh behind them — and they saw no escape.

God had done all sorts of miraculous signs in Egypt to deliver them from Pharaoh’s hand. He sent a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to guide them away from Egypt. He even told Moses, their leader, that Pharaoh would pursue them and God would take care of it. Clearly, He was not going to abandon them at this point in the story. And yet, here, they grumbled and complained because they looked at their circumstances and took their eyes off of God.

I can relate. There are those situations where I can survey what God has done in the past and remember His faithfulness — and yet, I survey the current situation and say, “But God, where are you now? I need you to show up for me now!” And even though I know God has rescued me before and can do it again — I worry that He won’t.

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And perhaps most shocking of all, most offensive to human reason is that God may have brought us to the place we are right now. He may have put that obstacle in front of us. As commentator Matthew Henry notes, the Israelites were instructed by God to turn from their route and head towards the Red Sea. A position, mind you, that not only put the sea in front of them and the Egyptians behind him them, but further “penned” them in with Pi-hahiroth, a range of sharp rocks, on one side; and Migdol and Baalzephon, believed to be forts and garrisons, on the other side (Matthew Henry Commentary).

God had a reason for leading them this way. He led them away from Philistine country where He knew that they wouldn’t be ready to handle a battle. But He led them to a place that looked, from a human vantage point, like a dead-end.

However, as Henry notes, they still had somewhere to go and it was “upwards.” He continues, “We may be in the way of duty, following God and hastening towards heaven, and yet be in great straits, troubled on every side … If God himself brings his people into straits, he will himself discover a way to bring them out again.” And although faith translated into action is good and can move obstacles, sometimes God brings us to a place that appears hopeless and asks us to do nothing but wait for Him. We look around in vain for an escape, and we get desperate when we can’t find one.

But God is bigger than any circumstance. He is never thrown off guard or taken by surprise. He knows exactly where we are. If we look at Him rather than the scary obstacle(s) in front of us, we will be able to still ourselves enough to see how He plans to deliver us or hear what our next step is.

2. God can use even our enemies to further His plans.

The other element here that is entirely offensive to human reason is the fact that not only did God put the Israelites up against a Red Sea, He hardened the heart of Pharaoh so that Pharaoh would pursue them. On the surface, this doesn’t sound like the action of a compassionate and loving God.

However, if we look deeper, we see that God did it so that His glory might be displayed. And He used the opportunity to take out Pharaoh and his entire army. While the Israelites viewed their situation as dire, God knew the outcome and wasn’t worried. But the people, again, saw only the circumstances and fretted with great distrust! How many times have I done the same? God has told me something that is to pass but the moment that I find myself in peril, I stop believing! But by doing so I essentially tell God that He isn’t strong enough to save me.

Pharaoh certainly didn’t think God was powerful enough to stop him. While Moses depended on God for the plan, Pharaoh depended on himself and the might of his power and his armies. Even though God had clearly shown Himself to be an unconquerable foe when He brought the plagues on Egypt and even took Pharaoh’s firstborn, Pharaoh did not believe, even after all of that, that God could outmatch him. Hearing of the Israelites’ unfortunate position against the Red Sea, Pharaoh seized on what he thought would be the perfect opportunity to take back the Israelites.

However, he quickly learned the folly of going up against the Almighty. He led himself and his men straight to a humiliating death when God closed up the sea and swallowed up Pharaoh and his armies! And just to add insult to injury, so to speak, Pharaoh’s men even admitted the might of God right before their death. After following the Israelites onto the path into the Red Sea, God took off their chariot wheels, and they said, “Let us flee from the face of Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians” (v. 25). Pharaoh must have been a bit irked to hear his men speaking against the wisdom of following the Israelites when Pharaoh was the one who had insisted on the pursuit.

Clearly, what I can see here between the steadfast devotion of Moses and the self-pride of Pharaoh is that trying to do things outside of the will of God is never a good idea.

I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me? (Jeremiah 32:27)

God can and will use your enemies to forward His own plans. So while our human tendency is to view certain people as blocking our path, making it impossible for us to reach our Promised Land, we can look at this story and realize that our enemies may be key characters in the ultimate story of our deliverance. God hardening their hearts against us may be an act of great tenderness that has to do with His glory.

And while God’s way may just not make any sense to us initially, we can look at Pharaoh and know that however bad things get, we should never attempt to create and lean on our own plans rather than God’s.

3. God may allow your circumstances to strengthen your trust in Him.

One last little nugget that we can find tucked away in the story is that not only did God display His greatness by delivering His people and extinguishing their enemies in one flourishing swoop, He used the circumstance to teach His people to trust Him. After the Israelites looked at all that had happened, verse 31 tells us that “the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.”

I remember going through a particularly challenging circumstance a few years ago where nothing on the outside lined up with the vision God had given me for my life. I was so confused. As I was relating to one of my sisters about this particular season of my life (which is still ongoing in many ways), my sister said this: “Maybe God put you in that situation so you could trust him.”

I really didn’t like that answer but as I’ve thought about it, I’ve had to conclude that she was right. In that time where nothing made sense, and I felt like I was at a dead-end (and I was mad that God had brought me there), I did gain some great gifts from that circumstance. One such gift was that I learned how to better trust God.

So, while this story has everything to do with the unsurpassed power of God that I heard about so often in my Sunday school classes as a child — this story has many other layers as well. It has everything to do with the impossible scenario I find myself in right now. The one I am doubting God can deliver me from. The one that has me losing sleep at night. As Henry notes, in such situations, “Your strength is to sit still (Isa. 30:7), for the Egyptians shall … threaten to hurt in vain.”

You and I can be encouraged that God is at work. We may not see Him or hear Him right away, but He has a plan for bringing us where we are and a plan for bringing us out. We need only wait!









Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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How Forward Motion Faith Overcomes Obstacles

Have you ever felt that there was a wall blocking your progress?

Yep. I have felt the same way many times the last few years as I have felt walls of every kind impeding my path.

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know that I left my job four years ago. I exited the education field because I felt God wanted me to go a new direction into ministry; however, rather than find open doors, I’ve experienced nothing but closed doors. I have felt many times that maybe I didn’t hear God right — that I’ve been on a wild good chase with no end in sight. I’ve had successes here and there, but overall, I have doubted many times that I even heard God tell me I was going to be used in music and women’s ministry.

I’ve felt like the Israelites in the story of Exodus when they leave Egypt, but Pharoah, changing his mind on letting them go, comes chasing after them. The Israelites find themselves in a really tight spot — the Red Sea in front of them and Pharaoh’s army behind them.

Although my obstacles haven’t been Egyptian soldiers wielding weapons and an actual expanse of water in front of me, my obstacles have been the scorn of others who don’t believe me or accept my journey, the doubt of family members who have actively pulled down my dream of singing, and my own unbelief as I have struggled not to allow my own doubt to completely suffocate the small flicker of a dream I have struggled to keep alive. I’ve had doors open in women’s ministry and music — the two areas I have felt called to serve in, but God has told me distinctly not to walk through those doors.

The things I have felt Him tell me to do instead have not yielded (in my estimation) any results, and I have been confused. Just like the Israelites, when I have traveled in the way I believe God has directed me, I have felt surprised to find what has looked like a dead end.

Recently I stumbled into church feeling weighed down by my circumstances, discouraged. Our senior pastor was the speaker that Sunday, and I guessed there was a change of plans in the service when I saw him motion to the campus pastor, whisper in his ear, and then scrawl some notes on a piece of paper in his Bible.

Getting up, he announced that the Holy Spirit had directed him to go a different direction with the service. He instructed the church to open to a passage in Exodus, and, you guessed it — he began to talk about when the Israelites were facing the Red Sea. He then turned to the congregation and said, “God is going to deliver some of you out of the hands of your enemies.”

Of course, after that sermon, I was actively looking for a deliverance of some kind. My next step in my journey. I did get an answer, but it was not in a way that I was expecting.

The Holy Spirit Quickened Me to Act

Some time ago, I started a project to contact many of my former high school classes. After I left teaching and began the path into ministry, I felt God prick my conscience concerning ways I had acted while teaching that weren’t the best. I felt He wanted me to go back to students in my teaching community and tell them the changes He was doing in me. Did I want to do this? Was this a project that made me comfortable? Heck, no! But I felt very strongly that He was leading me in this direction, so I took steps to do this.

I worked on contacting classes on and off for a whole year; except recently, I had been praying God would help me to finish the project or tell me if He wanted me to stop. I didn’t know if I was to continue on with all of my classes (a logistical nightmare) or cease from my efforts at the point I was at.

That was the question I was pondering when I walked into the church service that day and my senior pastor said he felt that some people were at Red Sea points in their lives. I didn’t know why God would lead me into a strait by telling me to refuse promising opportunities without opening up new ones and allow me to be so misunderstood by those around me. I still don’t. But I did know that there was only one who could deliver me from my circumstances. If He brought me in, He could bring me out.

During the course of the particular service I mentioned, I felt that I was to email a former administrator and tell him about the project and ask for help in contacting the rest of my classes. Because I wasn’t entirely sure whether or not this was the right step for me, I prayed and asked God very specifically, “God, do you really want me to contact him?”

That same day, I was driving to a lacrosse game and heard a woman’s story concerning faith on the local radio station. The woman asked these words: Why put off until tomorrow what you can do today?

And I knew God was telling me to send the email. So, I went home and stayed up typing the letter and sent it off.

Obedient Action Unlocks Blessing

Not too long after my desperate day at church and the contact with my former school, my husband texted me with some startling news — he had received a job offer from a school in a neighboring county. He had interviewed for the job, but when the position went to different candidate, we figured that God had sealed off the opportunity. However, not long after that, he received a different offer for another position at the same school. A position he had not applied for.

For whatever reason, something quickened in my spirit when he told me about the opportunity. We discussed the possibility all weekend. We even went down for prayer to make sure it was what God wanted for us — and we both left the altar with the distinct impression that God told him to take the job even though it would mean we would have to move.

However, I have to be honest with you. Just like the answer I felt I got from God in needing to contact my former school, the answer in my husband’s job change wasn’t what I wanted or even what I was looking for. These answers had nothing to do with music or my ministry. I wanted something to happen right where I was, but God seemed to have a different plan.

Though I don’t know for sure if my email and my husband’s job opening were somehow connected, one precipitated the other, I can’t help but think that the urgency I felt to write that email, to get moving on an assignment I would have liked to have put off for another day helped to usher in the start of the parting of the waters for me. What I do know is that obedience brings blessing.

I read once in an excerpt in Streams in the Desert about how our forward motion unlocks the “gates” we are to enter. The writer of the passage, Henry Clay Trumbull, used an example of country gates to illustrate this idea, saying:

Years ago automatic gates were sometimes used on country roads. They would securely block the road as a vehicle approached, and if the traveler stopped before coming to the gate, it would not open. But if the traveler drove straight toward it, the weight of the vehicle would compress the springs below the roadway, and the gate would swing back to let him pass. The vehicle had to keep moving forward, or the gate would remain closed. This illustrates the way to pass through every barrier that blocks the road of service for God. Whether the barrier is a river, a mountain, or a gate, all a child of Jesus must do is head directly toward it.

The Importance of Forward Motion

When you are up against a Red Sea in your life and you can’t figure out why God has brought you to that place, your forward motion may begin to move God’s hand to stir up the waves. However, the motion must be God-instructed motion for it to be forward motion. When the Israelites are up against the Red Sea and have nowhere to go, they are still and wait on God at Moses’ command. They don’t rush off and try to make up a plan that isn’t God’s. They quiet themselves to hear God’s instruction. And it comes when God says to Moses, “ ‘Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground’ ”(Exodus 14:15,16).

God’s words signal them to go. Their signal that God — not Moses, although he was the one who raised His staff — has made a way for them. God sends winds to part the waves when Moses lifts his staff up. Commentator David Guzik observes about this passage:

These were simple instructions connected to a mighty miracle. In the same manner, the greatest miracle of salvation happens with simple actions on our part. As the rod of Moses did not actually perform the miracle, so we do not save ourselves with what we do, but we connect with God’s saving miracle.

Your obedience is all God asks for — it is He who will ultimately move the waters. But your obedience plays a part. Like the country gates that only spring open when triggered by a moving vehicle, our acts of faith move God to act. Notice, Moses is instructed to raise his staff, and God does the rest. Moses doesn’t have to worry about fighting off the whole army or making a bridge to span the waterway — God fights his enemies and takes care of all the hard stuff after Moses obeys.


I still don’t know how my story in ministry turns out. At this point, unless God inspires me to do more with my school project, I feel God has answered the question I had of Him some time ago about whether or not He wanted me to continue with it. My former administration was not willing to help me in finishing my task of contacting my former classes, but I felt before I sent the email that God told me I was to do it so that I could be finished. I went to the lengths I could to complete what I could.

We are working on fixing up our house to put on the market and move out where my husband Keith’s new job is. Our move is another step in the direction of fulfilling the destiny God has promised me.

In response to these small acts of faith, I feel that God is pushing back the waters on my behalf and making a path where none existed before.

What about you? Are you up against a Red Sea in your life? Ask God if there is a step of faith you can take to move forward through your circumstance. Leave a comment here. I would love to pray for you!

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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